Monday, June 28, 2010

Gold Coast Fitness Center



She looked like Charlize Theron. A beautiful woman and a nice person, I knew her enough to nod or wave. We never really spoke beyond an occasional good morning. She was married. She was like a lot of people in the neighborhood, another friendly and familiar face. We’re all extras in somebody else’s movie. For a while she appeared in mine.

How did I know her? We worked out at the same time during the week. She was a member of Gold Coast Fitness Center in Newark Avenue, which held its final day of sweat on the last Sunday in June. Most folks who exercise there know it as Carmine’s gym, because of the warm and outgoing proprietor,
Carmine Colassurdo.


Technically, Gold Coast is not closing. Carmine is moving the gym a few store fronts west and renaming it Fit &Trim. There have been issues with the C.H. Martin basement location, as well as the bad economy and changing demographics of our city. In order to survive, Carmine is re-branding and introducing a new health club concept. I’m ready to give it a chance, see what develops. I’m pretty sure I’ll adapt. I’m confident the new health/fitness/wellness club will be as comfortable and welcoming—not to mentioned good natured and professional and most importantly, effective—as Gold Coast has been this past decade. Like the old, I’m sure the new version will embody the owner’s inviting personality.

The blue & gold logo has been a mainstay of Downtown J.C.’s main thoroughfare for what may seem like forever, but times change. Originally, the gym was located on Montgomery Street and called the 100 Club, and when it “re-opened” on Newark in January of 2000, it was one of the first of the “new J.C.” businesses on that street. Gold Coast was the name ambitious developers had given Jersey City. The term never entered wider usage. In the early 00’s, there were a lot of set backs to the inevitable gentrification and Gold seemed less applicable. I personally never liked the phrase. Newark Avenue begins at least an actual mile from the so-called coast, but more importantly, I just consider Coast to mean a shore line of an ocean, not a river bank. I guess it’s the coast of Hudson Bay depending on how you look at a map. I look at the map and see river bank. That’s just me.

Carmine once told me that people have different reasons to work out. Loose weight, relieve stress, doctor’s orders, etc., etc. That’s been certainly true for me. I’ve exercised for different reasons at different times. Enthusiasm for staying in shape waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows. Even with exercise, diet plays a big role and playing even a bigger role is genetics—and my family trends fat. Genes seem to insinuate themselves differently at different ages—your hairline recedes in your twenties, not in your teens or without any alteration in lifestyle or habits, you turn 30 and suddenly have a gut. I’ve gained and lost and gained and lost about 50 lbs, squeezed and expanded the waistline like an accordion through the years. What Carmine has helped me do is make exercise a constant component of my life. How big a component varies depending on the year. But since it remains, no matter how far I backslide, I’m no longer at square one when it’s time to jump back on the band wagon.

It is no exaggeration for me to say that this habit saved my life in the past six months, but that’s another story. I’ve come to realize that with a gym, you may come for the exercise, but you stay for the atmosphere and the people you meet.

What I think about when I think about this place, this space, this Gold Coast… this Carmine’s gym… is community. What does the idea of community really mean? I often ponder the implications. We live in a country, in state, in a city… we derive much of our identity from our residency. We are parts of several communities, and communities seem like concentric circles to larger conceptions—like nationality.

But how is the idea of community, and its complementary notion of identity, realized? I would suggest we realize the idea of community at the various points where community is manifested.

In other words, places were we can be with others who share something—a mind-set, a sensibility, a set of principles, or may just some similar experiences or a residence within a radius of a few miles. The how of a community is dependent on a where. Community is maybe just a fact of being in the same place. School, church, town meeting seem like the most obvious manifestations of community. When we line up to vote is another manifestation point. Art events, poetry readings are some of the newer concepts of community and I guess the local gym is one of the newer ones too. My parents never were members of a gym. Our souls, our selves, exist in bodies that need upkeep. Exercise is another commonality shared. Through this idea of community, a part of our identity grows. With community, we discover another part of ourselves and often, that very same community affirms that we share this part with others.

I can’t speak for the other gyms that opened downtown after Carmine proved there was a market here. I do know that Gold Coast had a wonderful cross-section of our community. At the time, Gold Coast’s basement location was upscale compared to the offerings at the time – grimy thug gyms. Those places have mainly disappeared from these parts. The other gyms that have opened seem perfectly okay, although maybe a little more exclusive than Carmine’s. I’m not interested in exclusive. Plus, I tend to be loyal. But I’m not here to promote anything, I’m just remembering a place that has been very special to many in this neighborhood for the past ten years.

I’ve met a lot of people, made a lot of friends, at Gold Coast. Some are passing acquaintances, many are close and likely life-long. Oh, there’s been a douche bag or two, but no more than that really. Countless others whose name I don’t know and who don’t know mine, but their faces are familiar and that’s good too. The familiar gives you a sense of ease and, a sense of home.

What strikes me is the diversity of the members of Carmine’s. Younger than me, older than me, same age. Blue Collar, White collar. All ethnicities. Born & Bred Jersey City folks, ex-pats form Europe, the mid-west. Mets & Yankee fans! Such an array is a typical summation of our city, but how many chances do we get to interact with each other, share the commonality when the differences, at least on the surface, seem to out weigh what we have in common.

It’s really something quite special if ordinary: a place to meet. I have nothing but gratitude to Carmine for the opportunity that has led to a multitude of interactions and many friendships. On any given day, you never know who you’ll meet there and shoot the breeze with. That’s nice. That in and of itself may not be community, but it sure seems like a place where community can start and be experienced.

The woman who resembled Charlize Theron? The angelic face I’ll never forget? It’s not because she was beautiful, even sexy. She was both. But that’s not why.

It was the morning of
9-11. I was at Gold Coast. Televisions with cable hook ups aligned the shelf in front of the elliptical machines. The gym was pretty crowded. I work out in the morning. At the time I had this pretty intensive weight lifting routine that could last upwards of two hours. If you remember that morning, there was a report of a plane hitting the World Trade Center. The news programs all had cameras trained on the famed skyscrapers. Everyone was wondering what was happening. The weights are in a different area than the cardio equipment, but I was making sure to look towards the TV screens for updates. I was doing bicep curls and she was in my view. Her arms and legs were pumping away. She was in a steady, fast-paced groove. Then she suddenly stops. She was instantly motionless. The second plane had hit. Her face froze in a look of horror. She quietly screamed. Her change in countenance was as abrupt as anything I’ve ever witnessed. Her look was now one of shock, fear, anguish.

That face started the whole 9-11 thing for me. Whenever I think of that morning, I see her visage. So much has happened since. So many deaths, more failures than successes, eight years of the most disgraceful administration in the history of our land; it’s hard to remember precisely the day of 9-11—the utter astonishment of that day, the sadness of days and weeks after. Jersey City is right across the river from Ground Zero. I went up the stairs from the gym to the sidewalk, huge column of black smoke billowed furiously in the horizon. Would the city be evacuated we wondered. At first I was like most Americans, watching a distant event on cable television that changed all our lives. Then after I left the gym, I was seeing people covered in dust wandering off the ferries docking down at Exchange Place. The reality was in my life, the horror of the facts no longer limited to TV.

I haven’t seen her in the neighborhood for years. She probably moved away. I think I remember seeing her pregnant before she disappeared. Remember where you were on 9-11? I do. I never have seen an expression so absolutely stunned. I never have seen beauty replaced so rapidly by something else. No one will ever forget that day, that morning. It was something felt by everyone in the community. The moment that a new era began to unfold, I was at Gold Coast... Carmine’s gym... a place where that community formed.














































Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Guilt

I wonder if they dug up the corpses and did DNA tests would the bodies match the guilt. And, speaking of the guilt, isn’t guiltier and guiltiest relative terms and by that token, relative to what—who ever is guilty in the first place. This is in Union Square Park, it’s an art installation by Miranda July, part of a series of interactive pieces so to speak. Called 11 Heavy Things, the project apparently premiered last year in Venice. Not sure what the meaning was beyond some summer in the city art fun, which on the second day of summer was sufficient context for me.

Fence, Gate, Latch

I liked the edges of rust along the edges of this gate. Not many summers left for this fence and gate, now could be the last one. It encloses a small lot, probably knocked down the building then the construction project got stalled. The corrosion separates the upper portion of the fence from the actual gate. A wire mesh fence jerry-rigs the pieces together. The latch seems impervious to the rust, remains fastened even everything around is rotted then patched together.


Blueberry Cocktail


This Blueberry & Cranberry juice is only slightly tart, and cane sugar and grape juice are the ingredients listed first. A day or so after I saw this promotional giant jar in Herald Square I had the rare opportunity to flip through the latest issue of Good Housekeeping and I saw a recipe that mixes this beverage with plan yogurt, then you freeze the yogurt with popsicle sticks and you have a tasty and healthy summer treat. I might try it in a yogurt shake. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start writing about food. You see these promotions frequently and I don’t really have a problem with them; at this point in our culture of what value can it be to bemoan commercialization? That dam broke long ago. Besides, it creates jobs. There’s a bit of surrealism—of course surrealism is intrinsic to advertising—when you see this juxtaposition, a Godzilla-sized beverage bottle. I love the way it seems to get lost in the relentless visual din of Manhattan. Who remembered the beverage the next day, or even by the time you arrived home. Did I notice something new about blueberries? No, probably not

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Brick/Old Brick

I suppose there are walls and walls of metaphors you can lay on this picture. There is nothing wrong with old brick, it’s perfectly acceptable brick. I bet at one time, decades ago it was traditional red – even fire engine red –brick. not the pale vestige of red that it now appears to be. I guess this building is getting refurbished, maybe even rehabilitated. The solution? Put a new brick exterior over the old brick exterior. For the transition we see a brick on brick fa├žade. The past isn’t even passed. It’s just the surface beneath the surface.


Silent Projector


An actual 8 millimeter project, real celluloid, no sound. This wasn’t at the Museum of the Moving Image or the Smithsonian Institute, but right there on Fifth Street at the weekly Sunday Night, J.C. Film Forum, which is presented at the Jersey City Arts School, As a special silent film evening, the film curator of the ongoing film presentation & discussion program, Yvonne Vairma, screened an actual celluloid Charlie Chaplin film, from 1914, Tillie’s Punctured Romance and in a is pretty cool blend of old and new technology, Yvonne found the film with score on You Tube. She cued up the lap top and as the film was projected through the above lens the musical accompaniment played off the internet. The projector was loud and the projected film looked beautiful. I’m not even a big Chaplain fan. I’ve always felt he was over-rated. Unfortunately, there was a gizmo of some kind, an adapter for the film reels, that was missing and we were unable to get through the two other reels. Not the fault of this projector, which was well up to the task. Dang thing is made of cast metal, real sturdy piece of equipment. Had to be more than half a century old. Wound up attaching a different projector to the lap top and we watched the rest of this silent comedy classic. Well, classic by default in my opinion but I still enjoyed it. What I enjoyed more was the discussion afterwards. Most of the folks there, who were in their 20s or early 30s, while extremeley perceptive, intelligent and true film lovers, had never seen a silent film before. I found that fascinating, not that they hadn’t seen one—I mean, who cares, there is just so much pop culture out there, who can keep up with everything—no, what was fascinating was hearing their first impressions of silent cinema. Silent film ripples throughout the history of cinema to this very day and what a rare treat to see other folks recognize that anew. I’ve been going just about every Sunday. Jersey City’s own Cineaste Society has been gaining momentum. Some of the topics and themes have included Memory & the Art of Cinema; Avant Garde films; Kurosawa, Bergman and next week, Indie Shorts!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pre PR Parade


Early Sunday morning. They were off to the New York Puerto Rican Day parade this Sunday. Some kind of autism awareness organization. I don’t know the exact name. The one guy was taking pictures. After he took one picture,, the group started to break up but some body else wanted a picture. They gave the guy their camera and the group went back to formation, say cheese. He snapped. Then the same thing happened, somebody else needed a group shot. A fun group off to have a fun day. Rowdiness and store fronts being boarded up seems to typify news stories about the event. I don’t ever remember seeing a story in the news media about folks of Puerto Rican descent marching for autism awareness in New York’s P.R. Day parade.

Hamilton Park Festival – A Flea Market Upgrades

























Who knew what a difference a make-over can make, or maybe it’s just that Hamilton Park was on hiatus and now it is back and our enthusiasm for the public green space is fresh and strong, greatly renewed. The Hamilton Park Festival was a lively affair, far livelier than pre-renovation. I never remember it being this crowded. It was just a flea market, basically a stoop sale for residents without a stoop. It is still that, the core inception remains effectively in effect. But I never remember bands, which they had all day. I didn’t catch their names but I caught two decent cover bands, at least the set I heard was solely covers. The first concentrated on Johnny Cash and Sun Records classics, with a stand up bass—I love the stand up bass—played by a very energetic and pretty blonde cowgirl. The other band went classic rock, The Who, The Stones, man. But nice and loud. The songs were competently played and their hearts were sincere. The flea market concept was on steroids. Augmenting our friends and neighbors trying to sell their stuff were purveyors of a semi-professional sort. One gentleman had a blanket of Christmas items for sale, and they looked new. Who in their right mind buys Christmas decorations in June? Oh that’s right, my deceased aunt. It’s a large world. Another difference between 2010 and H.P. flea markets of yore I never bought anything. I’m not a big vintage shopper. Oh, once in a blue moon I’ll buy a cheap paper back, but I never did the used clothing scene. I keep thinking where have these shoes been, I could never buy a pair—what right do I have to walk in the shoes of a stranger. It’s just not me. A lot of people though, and it seems to be particularly popular with the new edition of 20-somethings now making their mark on our society, like to buy used, liked to sell use. Has flea marketing become more than a hobby, is it now a lifestyle? So, this one gentlemen was selling LPs and DVDs and such, some of the DVDs were used and refreshingly obscure—a concert featuring Pere Ubu a famous 70s Ohio Punk Rock footnote. I think it was the friends of Devo show. Anyway, I did buy a pristine copy of a screener copy of this rediscovered Japanese Horror film from 1977. It made the festival circuit or something earlier this year, had an intriguing write up in the New York Times. This was a quasi legal item, but it is not yet available through mainstream sources. It was pretty cool. Never saw bootleg Japanese Horror films for sale at the flea markets held in the pre-renovated Hamilton Park. What also I think was new were tables by local community groups, such as our fair city’s underground theater group, J CITY Theater. I spoke with its director, Sandy Cockerel about their upcoming show, Gun Shy. I wrote about them in September. How underground are they? Their theater is in the basement of Saint Michael’s Church, which borders the North side of the park. I also spoke with the Liberty Humane Society. I am thinking about replacing my beloved Cat. They had a puppy in a cage and some snooty dog person comes by real snippy, almost shouting at the young women, who are volunteers, “That dog needs to take a pee.” Yes, he was accusing the humane society of being inhumane. That’s right: our local ASPCA is cruel to animals. I call that the downside of Jersey attitude. Or maybe more to the point, he's a douche bag. What a surprise, and in Jersey City no less! Parks can be renovated and flea markets upgraded to festivals, but some people prove to be a bit harder to improve.




















Friday, June 11, 2010

Lost Corner


This corner was the scene of last year’s arborcide, which of course was for the ill-conceived, in my humble opinion, widening of Christopher Columbus. I just think it is short sighted to encourage driving. But now it seems the widening of the street means we lost a corner. Look how odd this looks. There corner of the side walk ends before the stop light. Pedestrians have to step off the curb, then step to the stop light while waiting for the light to change. On our stop lights there are buttons to press if you are crossing the street, they change the light to green. I do not think they actually function, but pressing them softens the edges of impatience. I wonder if the plan is to leave the stop light in this position or somehow move it to the proper place in the corner of the sidewalk. Doesn’t this look somewhat hazardous? This corner is rampant with illegal parking, not exactly uncommon in our fair city. No parking here to corner is the rule of thumb. Now, where do they illegal park and where do people walking across the street wait for the light to change? Looks like some poor planning, or maybe the budget ran out before the stop light post was moved. Maybe it’s only temporary. Sure looks like we lost a corner, where is the corner at the light or the curb
?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Replacing Sidewalk

I guess when it’s a major retail thoroughfare like Newark Avenue, it’s called Street Scaping. But when it’s just an expansion of the highway known as Columbus that goes down to Exchange Place, well then that’s just replacing the dang sidewalk. This project gets no approved by the Mayor sign. I saw this pile of cement shards, thought about how many years I’ve walked here. I’ve left the molecules of some of the best shoe leather of my life here. Well, change is inevitable, life goes on and I like the fact that construction will not dissuade the trail of the morning dog walk.

Alley Cat Gallery: Impressions by Leigh More

I had to forgo partaking in the “JC Fridays” events on Friday because I want to see the last Loew’s film of the season, Raging Bull but luckily Alley Cat Gallery was one of the few galleries in our fair city that realize extending the quarterly event beyond one night can be beneficial to the gallery and the community at large.

It is worth pausing to reflect that there was an evening in Jersey City where I actually had too many choices. I now live in a city where I was conflicted between my love of film and love of art. I guess gentrification isn’t all bad.

On Saturday afternoon I saw the JC Fridays sign on Jersey Ave, mid-block twixt 4th & 5th. I only know of one gallery in the alley. Day-old balloons (they had been out all night) were tied both to the sign and visible on the familiar garage, which is sort of mid-block twixt Coles & Jersey. Whether you’re looking at longitude or latitude – or east or west or north or south – mid-block still applies. Map Quest, are you listening?

Entitled: “Impressions: Abstractions & The Hyper-Surreal,” the show was the first solo show by photographer, Leigh More, who was included in the earlier group show, covered here.

I wonder what hyper-surreal means. Surrealism can be seen as the juxtaposition of images and the connection between the images is made following dream logic, as opposed to say the rationale logic one uses to navigate through the waking world, the real. A larger piece was a photograph of the statue of Gandhi in Union Park, an image that emphasized the garden where the statue is located and the building in the background. Something is off kilter, because the building and its water tower fills the sky and looks different than I remembered it. The garden looks more lush, the statue bigger than life-like—I think it’s actually smaller than life-like, hard to tell, Gandhi was such a short and skinny iconic man of peace. The building which I believe now houses a humongous Whole Foods and use to be the home of Virgin Records has only a veneer of chic-ness, it is actually an old city building, as evidenced by the water or cooling towers. The building actually seems gritty, especially in contrast to the hues of the plants in the garden, which have an iridescent, neon tinge. The statue itself seems to have an almost human complexion. According to Leigh, the final image is actually a series of photographs of the same image, overlaid and each one transformed through a computer program – the one that is not Photoshop. Sure the technology part is interesting; artists can do some things only suggested at with film and dark room technique. But I liked the off-kilter feel, the building appears as gritty as it does in reality, the colors of the plants were obviously the opposite of reality, but then the actual juxtaposition of a peace garden amidst the clamor of big city life, especially a park named for the Union – during the Civil War, New York City supported the Confederacy and voted against Lincoln – Union Square Park has been the setting of many pro-labor, union and anti-war rallies, protests and marches. Surrealism generally now means a kind of meta-reality, a world turned strange and no longer bound by ordinary reality. Hyper-Surreal implies that concept being amplified. Maybe with this Gandhi in Union Square Park image, that magnification of the surreal actually brings the surreal further outside of Breton’s dream-logic manifesto into the realm of reality. Should hyper-surrealism be closer to surrealism or realism? Maybe it depends on how you view Gandhi or a garden within the setting of an urban park or a building originally built during the industrial age and has remained in a neighborhood that has gone from working class to fashionable. Making those connections between the images – and the presentation of the images – could be that’s the hyper part of the surrealism at work here.

The “abstract” pictures included a series called “Time Square Reflections.” Basically, these are photographs of puddles in Time Square. The light of the “reflections” on the surface of the water are then distorted by the photographer for expressionistic purposes. What you get are very eerie rainbows that indeed invoke the famous NYC neighborhood.

For more More, visit: www.leighmorephotography.com


My favorite part of going to the Alley Cat Gallery is this weird alley, walking down the secret passage. I guess I’m easily amused. Somehow I feel transported outside of Jersey City but at the same time, I feel propelled towards the heart of this city, an essence of sorts. I’m amid what is rarely seen. Impressions are an exhibit of photography intended to make us question our perceptions of reality. The fact that it is in a gallery accessible through an alley, a passage way outside the pedestrian norms of our hometown proved to be a subtle and clever reinforcement of the show’s theme.


Visit Alley Cat Gallery on Facebook



80s @ Loew’s: Raging Bull



Raging Bull was screened at Loew’s on Friday night, part of the “80s” weekend. The once a month film series on the 50-foot screen of this once opulent movie palace had a decades theme for the films screened. They always do something a little different and this time there was this display of 80s artifacts. I still have lot cassettes. They say who ever remembers the 60s was probably not there but the opposite is true, we are all there in the 80s and we can’t stop remembering it, unfortunately. Okay, that statement is probably not exactly the opposite of the statement about the 60s but the 80s was very ambivalent. Funny about Raging Bull, similar to To Kill A Mockingbird, which was the 60s film, both are emblematic of a decade yet the settings are of earlier decades. You forget how great Raging Bull is, it is not just the best Boxing movie ever made, it transcends the genre and is one of the greatest films ever made, one of the most brilliant manifestations of the art form since the invention of the movie camera. I’ve seen it a few times, including when it first came out. I seemed to recall having a conversation with my buddy Tony about it, he’s Italian and saying how they reminded him of his ankles, the way DeNiro and Pesci bantered. This sort of realism was only hinted at with the Godfather. Now we take it for granted, there’s been a host of blue collar Italian American characters in film. Moonstruck and the Sopranos are the two of the most well known. But Raging Bull was one of the first and one of the best, certainly few can compete with the believability and realism. For me it is always a film about penance and redemption. I didn’t go down Ray! Rumor has it that by 2011 the theater will be air conditioned. Attendance seemed kind of lax, but I didn’t mind the humidity. Seeing a black & white classic film on a genuinely big screen, it’s a singular event. Raging Bull is one of my favorite films and it was nice that this excellent presentation reminded me of that fact. Being reminded of the 80s though, not so excellent. I miss cassettes though and still play them occasionally.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

El Piraguero #1

Finally, the monument to William Mercado, at William Mercado Plaza on Jersey & Newark has been unveiled. The unveiling took place on Thursday apparently. Mercado was a neighborhood snow cone man who died a victim of violent crime. Anything I could say would be copped from this excellent piece on the man. The renovation of this corner happened to take place during the first year of the “blog project,” and it happens to be a corner I encounter during the course of most my days. I blogged about it before. As some “news” sources have reported, they replanted the trees that were removed. The veracity of this statement depends on how generously you define the word trees. Personally, I would rather the original trees were retained, not replaced by shrubbery and a dirt garden. But, so what, you know. The benches are nice and I find this monument profoundly touching. It is a stately memorial and resembles similar monuments to politicians or military leaders, and then you read it and see that the warm visage is of a working guy, a neighborhood guy, a guy who sold flavored ice by pushcart, there’s a poignancy you can’t escape. It’s endearing this city commemorates and in spite of all the corruption, all the new money, the new influx and displacements of populations, we can all recognize that this is something very New Jersey. It may not be peculiar to our state but we seem to do it better – remembering our “Local Heroes” – our friends & neighbors. Downtown may be getting less working class and less Latin. Change is inevitable. But what doesn’t change is that some of the human race lives in cities and we need corners where we can pause and linger and reflect, or more likely merely briefly relax. Some place more pleasant than other places to just pass through on our way home. Instead of a war memorial –we have enough of those – we get to think about el piraguero #1. It’s the rare monument that induces a smile.